About this Recording
8.660272-73 - STRAVINSKY, I.: Rake's Progress (The) [Opera] (West, Garrison, Woodley, St. Luke's Orchestra, Craft) (Stravinsky, Vol. 11)
English 

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971)
The Rake’s Progress: A Memoir

 

Robert Craft, Conductor

Anne Trulove - Jayne West, Soprano
Tom Rakewell - Jon Garrison, Tenor
Father Trulove - Arthur Woodley, Baritone
Nick Shadow - John Cheek, Bass-baritone
Mother Goose - Shirley Love, Mezzo-soprano
Baba the Turk - Wendy White, Mezzo-soprano
Sellem - Melvin Lowery, Tenor
Keeper - Jeffrey Johnson, Bass
Chorus of Whores and Roaring Boys,
Citizens of London, Bedlamites - Gregg Smith Singers

Orchestra of St. Luke’s • Robert Craft

Recorded at the Performing Arts Center, SUNY, Purchase, NY, from 10 to 18 May 1993
Producer and engineer: Gregory K. Squires • Editors: Richard Price and Arlo McKinnon Jr.
Mastered by Richard Price, Candlewood Digital LLC

 

I met Stravinsky for the first time on the same day that W.H. Auden delivered the completed libretto of The Rake’s Progress to him in Washington, D.C., 31 March 1948. Returning to Hollywood from New York five weeks later, Stravinsky began to compose the opera on 8 May adding the title “Festival of May,” from the second line of the libretto, at the head of his first sketch. When I visited him there at the end of July, he had completed the draft score through Shadow’s line, “You are a rich man”, and in the quartet that follows, he was sketching Tom Rakewell’s part, adding a sprinkling of bass notes and an incipit of the string accompaniment.

On my first day he played, “sang”, and groaned the score for me, stripped to his sleeveless undershirt and the talismanic medals that always hung around his neck. The visceral intensity of the performance, reflecting the throes of creation, seemed too private to watch, and for a moment I wanted to escape from the intimacy of the small, soundproof room. His rendering of the soprano part sounded two octaves, the tenor, one octave, below the written pitch, and in his struggles to find the orchestra’s notes on the piano from his draft-score, all sense of tempi and rhythms disappeared. He mispronounced every word—even “Tom” came out as “Tome”—and since he had not overcome his born-to pronunciation of “w”s as “v”s, or shed his thick Russian accent, the text was unrecognizable. At the end, bathed in perspiration, his face beamed with pleasure.

I was to hear no more of the opera until February 1949, when he played the completed first act for Balanchine, Auden, Nicholas Nabokov, and myself in a New York apartment. (The first scene was finished on 3 October the second begun two days later; scene three is dated 16 January 1949.) From the beginning of June 1949 I lived in Stravinsky’s house, or nearby, and during the composition of the second and third acts was separated from him only for brief intervals. By the time of my arrival he had written the tenor arias at the beginning of Act II, but he was not optimistic about the next pieces to be composed. He had reservations about the characterization of Baba the Turk, not to mention Shadow’s arguments for Rakewell to marry her, which he thought specious, abstract, and more likely to baffle than to convince an opera audience.

Stravinsky was beset by other worries in that summer of 1949. In his estimate the opera would be more than twice the length of any piece he had composed. The Stravinsky catalogue of a hundred or so works includes only five or six of more than a half-hour in duration, and the time-scale of the majority is far more brief than that. As soon as he had sent off the first scenes to his publisher, apparently with no concern that he might wish to revise any part of them in the light of later ones, he was obsessed by the idea that he might not live to complete the opera. Although conducting was his principal source of income, he reduced his concert engagements to a minimum in order to devote all of his time to the opera, and at one point he actually thought of shelving it and accepting a lucrative commission for a short piece. In July 1949, while composing the duet at the end of scene 1, Act II, he complained of sharp stomach pains—X-rays would reveal a duodenal ulcer—and a crippling one in his left shoulder, diagnosed as a pinched nerve. He was forced to follow a strict diet thereafter and to undergo daily neurological treatments, but these ailments were not entirely cured until he had scored the last chord of the Epilogue some twenty months later.

During the gestation of the last two acts of the opera I enjoyed the privilege of being able to observe the external signs of Stravinsky’s creative processes at close range. I was directly involved in the first step. He would ask me to read aloud, over and over and at varying speeds, the lines of whichever aria, recitative, or ensemble he was about to set to music. He would then memorize them, a line or a couplet at a time, and walk about the house repeating them, or when seated in his wife’s car (a second-hand, ancient and dilapidated Dodge) en route to a restaurant, movie, or doctor’s appointment. Much of the vocabulary was unfamiliar to him but he soon learned it and began to use it in his own conversation, charging someone with “dilatoriness”, or excusing himself for having to “impose” upon us, which sounded very odd from him. It can be said that his transformation from a primarily French-speaking to an American-speaking artist took place in correspondence with the composition of the opera. (The deficiencies of my own linguistic education were also a factor, of course.) I should add that after The Rake’s Progress and until the end of his life, Stravinsky, a voracious and constant reader, confined himself almost exclusively to books in English, the major exception being his addiction to the romans-policiers of Georges Simenon.

In setting words Stravinsky began by writing rhythms in musical notation above them, note-stems with beams indicating time values—quarters (crotchets), eighths (quavers), sixteenths (semiquavers), thirty-seconds (demisemiquavers), triplets, and so forth. In the act of doing this, melodic or intervallic ideas would occur to him, and be included either in the same line or just above. In Shadow’s “giddy multitude” aria, for example, the pitches and harmony given to the words, “ought of their duties”, came to the composer’s imagination during his preliminary sketch of rhythms, and it remained unchanged to the final score. In the opera, tonalities do not change from first notation to full score; melodic lines, rhythms, note-values, metres, instrumentation all undergo improvements and refinements, but not tonality and harmony.

A fair number of “X”-ings-out, followed by rewrites, are a feature of the opera sketches. If an ongoing melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic development suggested itself after he had completed a draft, he would add it in a blank space in his manuscript, squeezing it into a corner or cranny of even the most crowded page, circling it like a speech-balloon in a comic-strip, and drawing a line, sometimes long and winding but with arrows and road signs, to the place of insertion in the main sketch. Staves were traced with his assorted sizes of styluses—he did not use printed music paper—on large sheets of manila that he thumb-tacked or clipped to a cork board attached to the music rack of his piano. The full orchestra score was written with a soft lead pencil on sensitized transparent music paper, sprayed to prevent smudging, and reproduced by the ammonia vapour Ozalid process. Stravinsky wrote the full score at a slanted desk, with the final draft score on a stand just above, and wrote, after plotting the numbers of measures and score systems to fit the page, directly from the draft. In passages of comparatively complex orchestration, he would take time to write a trial measure or two in full score in pencil and on loose sheets of yellow carbon paper. If his layout of a score page proved to be less than perfect, which happened only very infrequently, he would rewrite it in its entirety rather than erase. His well-known remark that music should be composed avec la gomme is a criticism of the works of certain others, not of his own.

Stravinsky’s composing day, and composition was exclusively daytime work for him, began with playing the music he had written the day before, or most recently. I often joined him in this, taking the treble parts; he always insisted on playing the bass himself. The task of orchestrating, not unduly onerous in his case, since he had worked out the voice-leadings in the drafts, was reserved for the evenings. Quite regularly, at his request, I read to him during these soirées. He would interrupt me from time to time in order to concentrate on an intricacy of some kind, or try out a chord on the piano, then say, “And?” The first book that we finished was Mme Calderon de la Barca’s 1830s classic, Life in Mexico, in the Everyman edition. He remembered the contents, I should add, at least as long and as clearly as I did, which seems to prove that he had a compartmented mind.

Stravinsky entered indications for instrumentation in even the earliest sketches, and rarely revised them thereafter. Only two instances of the latter come to mind. First, the initial draft of the reprise of the choral march in the Brothel scene specifies the second horn as the obbligato instrument; then, while writing the final draft, he realized that the part would stand out more distinctly in the trumpet. Second, Shadow’s appearances are associated with cembalo flourishes. After the first of these, in response to Tom Rakewell’s “I wish I had money”, he pronounces the protagonist’s name, whereupon a shorter, related flourish follows, also played by cembalo and provided in the original sketch with keyboard fingerings. The final score transfers this to bassoon, partly to preserve the timbral integrity of the entire motive, partly because the wind instrument “echo” adds an element of parody.

Stravinsky reshaped melodies as he worked. A small but stunning improvement in this sense is the rewriting, a third higher in the last version than in the first, of the last three notes for the line, “the heart for love dare everything”. Then, too, in its first form the trumpet solo in the Prelude to Act II, scene 2, develops differently from the way we know it. And Baba’s breakfast patter—which in the first sketch is half purely rhythmic, half melodic—is frequently interrupted by rests. At some point after he had already blocked out the syllables within the metres, Stravinsky realized that the dramatic intent is an effect of breathlessness, which he then achieved partly by converting the sixteenth notes (semiquavers) that are followed by rests to eighth notes (quavers). I should also mention that this first Baba aria was composed after the second, the trumpet solo after the aria it introduces; Stravinsky did not always compose in the order of the libretto.

Yet what strikes us most about Stravinsky’s creative procedures is not the discrepancies between first and final versions but the overwhelming degree of resemblance, despite the enormous growth of his powers as an opera composer from the early to the ultimate scenes. Consider only one aspect of this: the ever-greater naturalness of the word setting. In Act III words and music fuse and complement each other, accent and metre, vocable and vocal register, are in agreement. Here Stravinsky feels the right speed and pitch range for the tricky word “dilatoriness”, and the orchestration that enhances verbal articulation, as in the accompaniment, pizzicato with crisp double-tongued trumpet notes, that make the consonants sparkle in the Bedlamite chorus:

Banker, beggar, whore and wit
In a common darkness sit

To some extent the greater flow and continuity in the third act than in the first two can he attributed to the absence of background-filling recitatives, and to thematic and stylistic linkages from scene to scene—the variations on the Ballad-Tune (itself borrowed from Mozart’s A major keyboard sonata) in all three scenes, and the embellishments that stylize Rakewell’s fear in the graveyard and the still more florid ones in his dying scene. But above all Act III has genuine music-dramatic power, not only in Shadow’s “I burn, I freeze”, but in the quiet, hollow unison, the only one in the opera, of the chorus’s “Madman, no one has been here”. Stravinsky was inspired by the two final scenes months before he had read the libretto. Without words to set, but impatient to compose, he wrote the beautiful string-quartet Prelude to the Graveyard scene on 11 December 1947, three weeks after the scenario had been drafted, and three years before he composed the scene itself, in November 1950.

Robert Craft, © 1994

 

Synopsis

The action takes place in eighteenth-century England

Act One

Scene one: The garden of Trulove’s country cottage. Spring afternoon. Tom Rakewell and Anne are exchanging idyllic vows of love. Anne’s father, Trulove, however, does not fully share their youthful optimism, and his doubts are increased by Tom’s refusal to consider regular employment. Left alone, Tom reveals that he believes fortune is the ruler of human destiny, and he makes his first wish: to have money. Immediately Shadow appears at the garden and tells Tom that he has important news for him about an unknown uncle. With Ann and her father, Tom hears that this uncle, who was Shadow’s master, has recently died and left him all his money. Tom feels that this news justifies his belief in his own superior destiny and shows his gratefulness to the bearer of good tidings by hiring him as his personal servant. They agree that Tom will pay him after a year and a day have elapsed. Tom promises Ann that he will send for her and marry her as soon as his affairs in London are settled. Together with his new servant, he sets out for the city.

Scene two: Mother Goose’s, a London brothel. Summer. Now splendidly dressed and very much the heir, Tom abandons himself to the loose life of the city. In a mock catechism on Nature, Beauty and Pleasure, Tom’s answers show how well he is learning Shadow’s lesson. When asked to define Love, however, the memory of Anne brings him violently to himself. To prevent his leaving, Shadow, with a magic gesture, turns back the clock to show him that time is his to command. Repentance can come later. In a song of initiation into the “Temple of Delight”, Tom sings of the love he has betrayed. The whores, attracted by his melancholy and his wealth, cluster around him, but Mother Goose claims him, by elder right, as hers.

Scene three: The garden of Trulove’s cottage. Autumn night. Anne, who has not heard from Tom since he left, prays that he may be happy in spite of the sorrow she feels. After a moment’s hesitation at the sound of her father’s voice, she resolves to carry through her decision to leave immediately for London. She is certain Tom needs her help.

Act Two

Scene one: The morning room of Rakewell’s house in London. Autumn dusk. Tom is sated with the life of pleasure, and makes his second wish: to be happy. Shadow immediately enters carrying a circus handbill of the famous Baba the Turk, and urges Tom to marry this prodigy of nature. In answer to Tom’s amazed “Have you taken leave of your senses?”, Shadow argues that only freedom brings happiness, and that the only way freedom can be obtained is by ignoring both Passion and Reason. Since Tom is neither attracted by Baba nor obligated to her, he can therefore prove his freedom and obtain happiness by the complete unemotional and irrational act of marrying her. Caught by the idea, Tom impatiently dresses and sets out to woo Baba the Turk.

Scene two: The street before Rakewell’s house. Autumn dusk. Anne hesitates before Tom’s door. Finally, as she is about to knock, a procession of servants carrying strangely shaped parcels comes down the street and enters the house. Night falls; a sedan chair is carried in and Tom steps from it. Confused and agitated at seeing Anne, Tom urges her to forget him and return to the country. Anne gently refuses. In the midst of their exchange, Baba puts her head out of the sedan chair window to demand attention. She is heavily veiled in Eastern fashion. Upon hearing that this is Tom’s wife, Anne sadly leaves. Then, as Tom escorts his bride into the house, an admiring crowd throngs in, begging Baba to unveil herself. This she does graciously, revealing a full black beard.

Scene three: Morning room of Top Rakewell’s house. Winter morning. The marriage has not brought Tom happiness. At breakfast, surrounded by the numerous incredible mementos of his wife’s travels, he sits glumly as Baba chatters away about her collection. When she tries to cheer him up, he violently repulses her. Baba, enraged, harangues him. She might never stop except that Tom cuts her short in the middle of a word by plumping an enormous wig over her face. After this he lies down to sleep, and Shadow enters, pushing a fantastic machine. With the aid of some bread from the table and a piece of the pottery that Baba has been breaking, Shadow demonstrates that the machine is an obvious false-bottom mechanism that seems to turn stones into bread. In his sleep, Tom utters his third wish: that his dream be true. When he wakens, he tells Shadow that he dreamed of a machine that could save the world from poverty. Then, when he actually sees the machine, he is overwhelmed, believing it authentic, his own invention, and a means, by doing good, of again being worthy of Anne. As the two prepare to leave and sell stocks for the venture, Shadow inquires about Baba. Tom replies “I’ve buried her”. And indeed, Baba is still sitting with the wig over her face.

Act Three

Scene one: Morning room of Tom Rakewell’s house. Spring afternoon. Tom and all those who bought shares in his scheme are bankrupt. A crowd is gathered in the now dusty and dilapidated house for an auction. Anne enters, inquiring for Tom’s whereabouts, but receives no sensible answer. The auction takes place, and the enthusiasm of the crowd reaches riot proportions at the sale of an “unknown object”. This turns out to be Baba who, awakened from her trance, accuses the auctioneer and the crowd of theft. Tom and Shadow are heard singing mockingly in the street. Anne reenters and the two women recognize each other. Resigned to her financial ruin, Baba tenderly exhorts Anne to find Tom and save him, but to beware of Shadow. As for herself, she will return to the stage and again be a reigning favourite. Once more the voices are heard in the street and Anne hurries out. Baba, imperiousIy commanding her carriage, sweeps past the admiring crowd.

Scene two: A churchyard. The same night. The year and a day have elapsed and Shadow, revealing himself as an agent of Hell, demands Tom’s soul as payment for his service: at midnight he must kill himself. A clock begins to chime twelve, and Tom is overcome with despair. After nine chimes, Shadow again demonstrates his power to tamper with time: the chiming ceases and he proposes a card game, with Tom’s soul as the stake, to be played in this magic period of grace. Shadow will cut three cards and Tom must guess what they are. The first he guesses with the help of Shadow’s hints. The tenth chime sounds. On the second card he makes a lucky guess, aided by fortune. The eleventh chime sounds. For the third card which is the same as the first, it is the voice of Anne, in answer to his anguished cry of “Return, O love”, which makes him certain of his reply, “The Queen of Hearts”. His wishing has come to an end. Midnight sounds and Tom faints. Defeated in the game, Shadow still has the power to deprive Tom of his reason. He sinks into the ground. Dawn comes. Tom, in his madness, thinks that he is Adonis.

Scene three: Bedlam. The madfolk torment Tom for his belief that Venus will come to visit him. As he lies despondently on his straw pallet, Anne enters. Told by the keeper what form Tom’s madness has taken, she assumes the rôle of the Goddess, consoling the repentant rake. As she sings him to sleep, the madfolk, also momentarily consoled by her voice, join in the song. Then, when her father comes to fetch her, Anne bids the sleeping Tom farewell and leaves. Tom, awakening with a start, wildly accuses the madfolk of having stolen her. They reply that no one has been there. Calling upon them to mourn Adonis, whom Venus loved, Tom sinks back lifelessly.

Epilogue: Before the curtain the principals sing the moral:

The Devil finds work for idle hands to do.


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